Prolonged Exposure to Stress Can Alter Your Genes – and Your Children’s Genes

A groundbreaking study by researchers from Mount Sinai Hospital in New York has discovered trauma can alter the way genes function, and children can inherit the changes.

The study, which focused on Holocaust survivors and their children who were born after World War II, found both generations had lower cortisol levels than Jewish families who resided outside of Europe during the war.

Cortisol is a hormone released by the adrenal glands in response to fear or stress as part of the fight-or-flight mechanism. Once the alarm has sounded for your body to release cortisol, your body becomes mobilized and prepares to react. But a physical release must take place (either fight or flight), otherwise cortisol levels build up in the blood—wreaking havoc on your mind and body. It is believed prolonged exposure to trauma (like that in a concentration camp where one is unable to fight or escape) would, over time, cause the body to decrease the amount of cortisol it produces.

This study is the clearest example of the transmission of trauma to a child via epigenetic inheritance (environmental influence affecting genes). The altered genes of the parent who experienced trauma can pass on to the offspring, thus affecting the next generation’s cortisol levels.

Individuals with low levels of cortisol are at an increased risk for depression, emotional hypersensitivity and social anxiety.

There are subtle implications for your Krav Maga training in terms of how stress is created in the training environment and how each student is able to release and address the stress. It’s also worth noting that many students come to Krav Maga after years of being in stress-filled relationships. The study brings to light a potential issue, and it’s conclusions worth passing on to your students.

**For those who have experienced trauma and are concerned about the implications for their unborn children, there is help. Research shows behavioral therapy for parents who have experienced trauma can decrease the chances of their children inheriting trauma. Authors of this study expect it will lead to more trauma-informed care by mental health professionals.

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